BISMARCK — The North Dakota Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Gov. Doug Burgum in his petition to fill a state House of Representatives seat.
The court issued its ruling on Tuesday, Nov. 24, that Burgum "does not have statutory or constitutional authority to make an appointment to fill the vacancy in this case."
The vacancy comes after District 8, north of Bismarck, elected Republican candidate Dave Andahl, who died from COVID-19 in October. When Andahl died, it was too late for his name to be taken off the ballot.
The authority to fill the seat now lies with the local District 8 Republicans, who last week nominated longtime House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, to continue representing the district into the next session.
In a statement, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who represented the Legislative Assembly in the Supreme Court case, said Burgum's effort to fill the seat through the Supreme Court "was a waste of taxpayer dollars and time."
"(All) of which could have been avoided had the Governor came across the hall to receive legal advice from the person who was elected by the citizens of North Dakota to provide legal advice to state officials," Stenehjem said in his statement.
Burgum released a statement, saying: "While we disagree with the findings, we respect the Court’s opinion and will continue to do our best every day to serve the citizens of North Dakota."
Delzer originally lost in the June primary to Andahl after Burgum backed Andahl and spent heavily to unseat Delzer.
The morning after the Nov. 3 election, Burgum announced he was appointing coal executive Wade Boeshans to represent District 8, which has about 14,000 constituents.
The Supreme Court stated in its ruling that because the term for the incumbents who are currently representing District 8 in the House does not end until Nov. 30, there was no vacancy for Burgum to fill.
The Republican governor has argued that Andahl's death created a situation that was unique and that no method for filling the position existed, except for the governor to fill the seat himself, as is stated in the North Dakota Constitution. However, the court ruled on Tuesday that the North Dakota Century Code applies to this case, which gives members of the Legislative Assembly the power to appoint someone to the seat.
The court said Burgum's interpretation of the state Constitution and Century Code in this case "is unconvincing."
"Because that law provides a method for filling this vacancy, the Governor’s gap-filling authority is not available," the court wrote in its ruling.
The Democratic-NPL Party intervened in the Supreme Court case, arguing that their candidate, Kathrin Volochenko, should get the seat because she received the second-most votes out of qualified candidates.
However, the Supreme Court said in its ruling that the party's arguments were "unnecessary to our decision or are without merit."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.